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Uvalde families reach $2M settlement with city and say they are suing school district and 92 officers over shooting response

By Andy Rose and Eric Levenson, CNN

(CNN) — Nineteen families of the students and teachers killed or injured at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, announced Wednesday they have settled a lawsuit with the city for $2 million, and announced they are suing 92 officers with Texas Department of Public Safety, the school district and individual employees.

“It has been an unbearable two years,” Javier Cazares, the father of 9-year-old victim Jacklyn Cazares, said at a news conference. “We all know who took our children’s lives, but there was an obvious systemic failure out there on May 24. The whole world saw that.

“No amount of money is worth the lives of our children. Justice and accountability has always been my main concern. We’ve been let down so many times, that time has come to do the right thing,” he said.

The city confirmed the settlement in a statement.

“Today, we are thankful to join the victims’ families in arriving at an agreement that will allow us to remember the Robb Elementary tragedy while moving forward together as a community to bring healing and restoration to all those affected,” the city said. “We will forever be grateful to the victims’ families for working with us over the past year to cultivate an environment of community-wide healing that honors the lives and memories of those we tragically lost. May 24th is our community’s greatest tragedy.”

The announcement of the settlement and the latest legal action come just before the two-year anniversary of the mass shooting in which an 18-year-old stormed into the elementary school, killed 19 children and two teachers and barricaded himself in a classroom. A total of 376 law enforcement officers from across the region rushed to the school to respond, but ultimately none of them breached the door to the classroom to confront the shooter for 77 minutes.

The slow response was at odds with law enforcement active shooter protocols, widely accepted after the Columbine school shooting in 1999, to stop the threat immediately.

As part of the settlement, Uvalde will pay the families a total of $2 million from its insurance coverage, according to a statement from attorneys Josh Koskoff and Erin Rogiers.

In addition, the city pledged to institute several policy changes to the police department, such as a new “fitness for duty” standard for police officers. The city will also establish May 24 as an annual Day of Remembrance, will create a committee to coordinate designing a permanent memorial and will support mental health services for the families, survivors and community, the attorneys said.

The terms of the settlement were reached through a “restorative justice process” between impacted families and the city, the attorneys said. Pursuing further legal action against Uvalde could have bankrupted the city, a result that none of the families wanted, they added.

In a statement, Koskoff called the settlement a step in the healing process, and the mother of a student who was killed said it reflected a “good faith effort.”

“For two long years, we have languished in pain and without any accountability from the law enforcement agencies and officers who allowed our families to be destroyed that day. This settlement reflects a first good faith effort by the City of Uvalde to begin rebuilding trust in the systems that failed to protect us,” Veronica Luevanos, whose daughter Jailah and nephew Jayce were killed, said in a statement.

“But it wasn’t just Uvalde officers who failed us that day. Nearly 100 officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety have yet to face a shred of accountability for cowering in fear while my daughter and nephew bled to death in their classroom.”

Delayed law enforcement response widely criticized

Also Wednesday, the attorneys announced they are suing 92 individual Texas DPS officers, the school district and several employees for their alleged failures responding to the shooting.

“Law enforcement’s inaction that day was a complete and absolute betrayal of these families and the sons, daughters and mothers they lost,” Rogiers said in the statement. “TXDPS had the resources, training and firepower to respond appropriately, and they ignored all of it and failed on every level. These families have not only the right but also the responsibility to demand justice, both for their own loss and to prevent other families from suffering the same fate.”

A spokesperson for the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District said the district “remains committed to supporting our community throughout this process” but declined to comment on the specifics of the case, citing the ongoing litigation.

“The District continues to be open to exploring a resolution involving all the families and individuals impacted by this tragedy,” said Anne Marie Espinoza, the district’s executive director of communications and marketing.

CNN has reached out to the Texas Department of Public Safety and the DPS Officers Association for a response.

The disastrous police response has been criticized in a series of government investigative reports, although no one has faced criminal repercussions. A scathing US Department of Justice report in January blamed the failed response on “cascading failures of leadership, decision-making, tactics, policy, and training” on the part of law enforcement officials and said lives would have been saved if police had followed generally accepted practices.

Uvalde school district police chief Pete Arredondo was fired in August 2022 for his role in the failed response to the mass shooting. His replacement, Joshua Gutierrez, has submitted his resignation and his last day on the job is set for June, according to a school official’s statement.

The lawsuit announced Wednesday is just the latest civil action related to the mass shooting.

Previously, the family of Eliahna Torres, a 10-year-old victim, filed a lawsuit in November 2022 against nearly two dozen people and entities, including the gun manufacturer and store that provided the rifle used in the attack and law enforcement officials who responded to the scene. In addition, survivors of the shooting filed a $27 billion class action lawsuit in federal court in December 2022 against multiple Texas law enforcement agencies. A trial date has not been set in either lawsuit.

Officials have said the shooter legally purchased the guns in the days after his 18th birthday. The carnage remains among the deadliest episodes in America’s ongoing scourge of school shootings.

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